With hundreds of walking tracks and some of New Zealand's best surf beaches, Auckland's west coast is a natural playground.
This spectacular region of lush native bush, coastal rain forest and rugged black sand beaches, provides a green fringe to the city's western boundaries, and is all within a 30-minute drive from downtown Auckland.
Film and television has popularised the region's dramatic landscape in productions such as The Piano, Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys television series.
Between the city and the sea, the rainforest of the Waitakere Ranges - covering more than 18,000ha - is an ecological treasure of diverse flora and fauna. It has been a regional park since 1894.
The Waitakere Ranges were formed by a series of ancient volcanic eruptions that spewed volcanic sands and magnetic iron oxide ash, creating a diverse environment ranging from the distinctive black sand beaches of the west coast, to lush forest, coastal wetlands, and broad sandfields.
Arataki Visitor Centre
Arataki Visitor Centre is the park headquarters and one of the best starting points for a trip 'out west'. Located in the hills beyond the village of Titirangi, the centre offers 360-degree views over the Waitakeres.
Along with informative displays and exhibits, the centre is surrounded by Maori carvings created by the local iwi / tribe - Te Kawerau a Maki. The 11m high pou / guardian post at the entrance represents ancestors of Te Kawerau a Maki and is one of the largest of its kind in New Zealand.
There are more than 250km of walking tracks to explore in the native rain forest along with rare native flora.
The Hillary Trail is four-day walking track named after one of New Zealand's greatest adventurers, Sir Edmund Hillary. The west coast was one of Sir Ed's favourite New Zealand recreation spots.
Auckland City Walk is an easy one hour loop walk featuring huge kauri and totara trees that were once used to make Maori waka / canoes.
Large Kauri Walk includes a giant kauri with a 7m girth that grows just metres from Scenic Drive - one of the main roads leading to the west coast.
AWOL Adventures takes more adventurous visitors on a journey into the rain forest canyons of the Piha valley that includes abseiling under showering waterfalls, before jumping and sliding through the canyon.
The Piha canyon has in pioneering heritage and was used to transport milled kauri in the 19th century.
Local company Bush and Beach provide a guided wilderness experience that features local history.
This specialised tour visits the Waitakere ranges, rainforest and beach landscapes where the guide reveals local history, stories and regional flora and fauna, as visitors walk the black sand beaches and rainforested tracks.
The west coast is a popular with Auckland's artistic community.
Local and national works are displayed at Lopdell House Gallery, a regional art gallery in the village of Titirangi.
Colin McCahon, one of New Zealand's most renowned artists, lived in Titirangi for several years, and his former home has been preserved in recognition of its importance.
Titirangi market offers local and international arts, crafts and local produce for sale on the last Sunday of each month.
Cafés and restaurants
The region's cafés and restaurants offer plenty of opportunities to refuel.
Elevation Café and Restaurant has an outdoor deck with views over the rainforest and back to Auckland city. Hardware Café in Titirangi village features local art and gourmet coffee.
For a weekend escape on Auckland's west coast, accommodation ranges from the quirky to upmarket.
Bethells Beach Cottages, nestled high on a cliff overlooking Bethells Beach, has two self-contained cottages and an apartment that offer privacy and unrivalled views over the Tasman Sea. Host Trude Bethell has a strong family connection to the area, and offers on-site health and rejuvenation packages.
Black Sands Lodge at Piha beach - a one-minute walk from the beach - has self-contained beach cabins in a large private garden of New Zealand natives. On-site options include bikes, massage, surf lessons, abseiling, wine tours and private dining.
Waitakere Estate is a boutique hotel that sits on a ridge surrounded by 70 acres of native bush with extensive views back to Auckland city and the Hauraki Gulf. This New Zealand-owned estate was built by Captain Nevill-Jackson in the 1950s, and his family continues to run the business.
Skyhouse Coastal Retreat offers total privacy in a secluded self-contained suite perched above the treetop canopy, with large glass windows offering 180 degree views of the Manukau Harbour.
Hillary Trail honours NZ adventurer